I arrived at the underground station on autopilot. I make the arduous journey across London twice a day (slightly less arduous these days since I sold my bike to a builder and decided to fork out for the tube instead) and generally pay little attention to the world around me. Sitting on the tube is one of the few times when I can get a good couple of hours reading done with no distractions. I don’t travel during rush hour so I always get a seat and there’s usually plenty of room.

When I’m too tired to read proper books, I read one of the free newspapers that litter the underground. I enjoy reading about the latest stabbing or shooting. I fantasise about being attacked by a stranger armed with a sword or long knife, when purely by chance I happen to have a sword about my person, and we engage in dramatic conflict with much finesse and bloodshed. But no-one ever does attack me, even when I wander around Hyde Park in the early hours of the morning, drunkenly falling over fences.

But this time, when I emerged from the platform and aimed myself at the ticket barrier, I noticed a ticket inspector arguing with a hulk of a man. This guy was huge. He wore baggy clothing, which made it hard to assess his real size, but his flesh hung from his slumped shoulders like great slabs of supermarket braising steak. One of those northern supermarkets where everything is still in its packaging crate, not Waitrose.

He was bloody massive. I wouldn’t have been able to get my arms around his waist, assuming there was a waist in there somewhere, and I could see up his nostrils without ducking. He seemed to be refusing to show his ticket to the ticket inspector. Presumably he couldn’t get through the automatic gate and the inspector wouldn’t open it manually without first inspecting the ticket.

I didn’t pay much attention. Sometimes people travel without tickets. Sometimes they get caught. It isn’t very exciting. I waved my RFID device at the barriers and they swung open in that curious way that makes me think of battery farming and industrial slaughter houses. Then I sensed an enormous presence over my shoulder. Before I realised what was happening, the monster of a man walked through the gate behind me.

I felt like a bit of a tit. I really should have seen that one coming. I turned around to see if the inspector was following but he wasn’t. He just stood there, looking rather impotent and frustrated. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s stolen someone’s travelcard!” he shouted, but no-one did anything. I watched the blob shuffle through the station unchallenged with his unbelted trousers held up only by gravity.

I felt as impotent as the ticket inspector. Here was a man clearly breaking the law and no-one would stand up to him. I contemplated it but it would never have worked. He would have just walked straight over me without breaking his shambolic stride. The only way to stop him would have been to hit him hard, preferably with a weapon, when he wasn’t expecting it. Although possible, I suspect that would have landed me in some trouble. I also didn’t have a sword on me at the time.

I followed him out onto the street, where he produced a mobile telephone and called someone to describe his heroic escape from the tube station. He made it sound quite dramatic and not at all sordid.

I was struck by the complete impotence of the average citizen these days. There was a time when people stood up to criminals. He would never have got away with that a hundred years ago. The ticket inspector could have stopped him, secure in the knowledge that all the other commuters would have backed him up. As it was no-one cared. No-one even acknowledged that something wrong had happened.

I wish we were allowed to carry weapons. I wish honourable duelling were legal. I’d have challenged him to a fight, then run the bugger through with dignity and right on my side. He was practically spherical, there’s no chance I’d have missed.

Published in: on August 6, 2008 at 8:27 pm  Comments (2)